Carly Pearce: 'Country Music Has Been the Thing That Saved Me' After Split from Michael Ray

Last year wasn't easy for anyone, and Carly Pearce knows that well: After tying the knot with fellow musician Michael Ray in October 2019, the two country stars decided in June 2020 to call it off.

At the same time, Pearce's star was rising as her duet with Lee Brice, "I Hope You're Happy Now," became a smash hit, earning her three CMA Award nominations and hitting No. 1. On the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, Pearce told host Janine Rubenstein that her career success kept her from dwelling on her personal difficulties.

"In the midst of so much personal change, and turmoil, and heartache, I still felt so much love from country music," she said. "In my entire life, country music has always been the thing that made me feel understood or … saved me. In the midst of it, fans really understood what they were giving to me."

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Her marriage wasn't the only thing she was mourning as she continued to work on her music; the 2019 death of her producer, Busbee, also was heavy on her mind.

"I had to figure out what music looked like without [Busbee], and I also had to find my way through this divorce that I didn't see coming," she said. "I'm just so proud of this [new] music. I think it's the most authentic music that I've made."

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Pearce, 30, also has taken away some important lessons from her difficult year of pain and growth, illustrated in detail on her new EP, 29.

"The biggest thing for me during 2020 was learning that … it's okay to not be okay," she said. "Just accept that life is all about moments that are going to either define you or refine you, and refinement's a really beautiful thing."

Now that she's seeing light at the end of the tunnel, Pearce says she's excited to get back to normal, especially in her beloved Nashville, which in 2020 was buffeted by a deadly tornado, COVID and a bombing.

"I feel like Nashville's always been resilient and they continue to show that in what's going on now," she said, adding that she can't wait for the return of live music. "I want to sing. I want to be able to see smiling country fans. I look forward to when all of those things can safely happen."

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